While his day-to-day work—conducting research, writing grants, and mentoring students—has not changed significantly since graduation, Justin Rohrer (Ph.D.EE’ 11) overhauled his surroundings. He traded the Midwestern plains for the California coast and a cramped seven-person office on West Campus for one of his own at the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) in Monterey.
“The only things KU didn't prepare me for were living with year-round temperatures in the 60s and 70s and having an office that is a five-minute walk from the beach,” says a smiling Dr. Rohrer, who joined NPS as a research associate in December.
At NPS, Dr. Rohrer’s group is developing new networks to support reliable communication to those on the frontlines or in other challenging environments. Intermittent connectivity, limited infrastructure, and other obstacles require a store-and-forward approach. Nodes keep sent data in memory for a short time to ensure information can be retransmitted quickly if delivery wasn’t successful. Disruption-tolerant networks (DTNs) use innovative data bundling and routing schemes to ensure troops can access maps, satellite images, and other life-saving data.
His current research stems from his honors dissertation on protecting the Future Internet from large-scale attacks and disasters. Under the direction of EECS Associate Professor James P.G. Sterbenz, Rohrer examined how to increase resilience, which is the ability of networks to maintain acceptable service during severe disruptions. Rohrer found that increasing diversity both of routes and the underlying architecture enables greater resistance to cyberattacks. Additionally, Rohrer developed metrics to evaluate network designs for resilience.
“It is much more difficult, and therefore interesting, to design networks that keep working after parts of them break, than it is to design networks that only work when no adverse conditions exist,” Rohrer said.
Rohrer, a life-long New Yorker, had planned to stay closer to home for graduate school, but a campus visit changed his mind. Impressed with EECS faculty and their research, Rohrer enrolled for his first Ph.D. classes in the fall of 2004. The following year Dr. Sterbenz arrived at KU, and Rohrer became one of his first Ph.D. students. Rohrer credits Dr. Sterbenz for introducing him to many of the open problems in resilient networking, and Dr. Sterbenz commends Rohrer for his incredible worth ethic and mentoring of graduate students within the ResiliNets research group.
“Justin did an outstanding job on his research, leading and contributing to a number of publications, and well as providing leadership to M.S. and junior Ph.D. students,” said Dr. Sterbenz.
Rohrer cites the more than 30 published papers as one of his proudest achievements at KU. As for the mentoring of new students, he said it made much more sense to share things he had learned along the way rather than watch new students struggle. By learning the ropes more quickly, students could then start making larger contributions to ResiliNets projects. He was quick to point out that it was not an entirely selfless act, as his dissertation research benefitted from their work.
“Justin's academic accomplishments in terms of his research and publications speak for themselves,” said Abdul Jabbar (Ph.D.EE ’10 and MSEE ‘04) who shared an office with Rohrer. “He is the type of person you can always count on. Due to his helping and patient nature, he was a great mentor to new graduate students that joined our research group.”
While he does not miss the 80-100 hour work weeks in Nichols Hall, he does miss the camaraderie and sense of purpose of those late-night brainstorming sessions. He is glad for where has been and even happier to be at the beach.